60 Years of CAD Infographic: The History of CAD since 1957

The computer-aided design landscape has been shifting and evolving for 60 years and will continue for 60 more. 

60 years ago, the “Father of CAD,” Dr. Patrick Hanratty created the first numerical control system, which would later become Computer Aided Design, or CAD. The precision, versatility, and adaptability of CAD designs revolutionized the engineering, architecture and manufacturing landscape. The importance of CAD cannot be overstated.

While the history of CAD closely parallels the history of the computer, there have been many innovations and iterations along the way. With its introduction in 1957, CAD was still decades ahead of the small and affordable computers that would make the software available to anyone. Pencil and paper would remain the primary way “draftsmen” created designs for another 30 years. But the groundwork was laid for things to come; CAD software would eventually become a fundamental tool for nearly every industry.

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The idea of CAD has grown from simple 2D designs into complex, multi-layered 3D structures with kinematic movement and detailed metadata. Similarly, the CADENAS digital catalog has paralleled innovations in the CAD industry. The eCATALOGsolutions platform is continually evolving to provide native formats as soon as they are available, often before they are publicly available. Whether you launch your CADENAS eCATALOG in 2001, 2017 or 2027, all of the CAD models you provide your clients will remain backward compatible and “future-proof.”

History of CAD


History of CAD Highlights:


Program Date Creator Description
Blueprints 1861 By: Alphonse-Louis Poitevin   Alphonse-Louis Poitevin invented the first blueprints using iron ferro-gallate and light. His process let designers make copies of architectural drawings, reducing the chance of losing information or making errors when transferring designs between team members.
PRONTO 1957 By: Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty
(the “Father of CAD”)

PRONTO was the first commercial, numerical-control programming system. It sparked everything that is CAD.

Sketchpad 1963 By: Ivan Sutherland   Sketchpad was one of the first design systems to use a graphic user interface. Using a light pen on a CRT display, users could constrain properties in a drawing. Sketchpad also created the use of “objects” and “instances.”
(Design Automated by Computer)
1963 By: Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty, General Motors, and IBM Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty, General Motors, and IBM partnered to create DAC, an early graphic CAD system. Computer scientist Douglas T. Ross coined the name CAD (computer-aided design).
(Computer-graphics Augmented Design and Manufacturing)
1965 By: IBM/Lockheed CADAM introduced CAD to aerospace design.
(Computer-Aided Design & Drafting)
1966 By: McDonnell Douglas
(now merged with Boeing)
  McDonnell Douglas and other manufacturers started releasing internal CAD systems like CADD, which was used for parts layouts and geometry work.
(Product Design Graphics System)
1967 By: Ford Ford developed an internal CAD system called PDGS.
Digigraphics 1967 By: Itek   Itek released Digigraphics, one of the first commercial CAD systems. The system cost $500,000.
(now under PTC)
1969 By: Philippe Villers and Martin Allen   Computervision sold one of the first commercial CAD systems to Xerox.
(Automated Drafting and Machinery)
1971 By: Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty   This interactive graphic system was written in Fortran and designed to work on virtually all mainframe computers. Approximately 90 percent of today’s commercial drafting programs can be traced back to ADAM.
Synthavision 1972 By: MAGI   Synthavision was the first 3D solid modeling system. It rendered images with ray-tracing.
(now NX)
1973 By: United Computing   Unigraphics provided 2D modeling and drafting. It was a high-end, easy-to-use software used by many corporations that set a new gold standard for CAD software at the time.
(Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines)
1975 By: Dr. Ken Versprille   While working under Computervision, Dr. Ken Versprille introduced NURBS to CAD. NURBS helped define surfaces and is still widely used in engineering today.
(Graphical Language for Interactive Design)
1977 By: Charles Eastman   GLIDE had many of the same features as modern BIM.
CATIA 1977 1981 By: Dassault Systèmes   CATIA, a multi-platform CAD software still in use today, introduced engineers to 3D modeling.
(Initial Graphics Exchange Specification)
1980 By: U.S. National Bureau of Standards
(now National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  IGES is a neutral CAD format that lets users transfer their 3D designs between different CAD software programs. Once STEP was released, IGES was no longer updated, but it is still accepted in many places.
(Structural Dynamics Research Corporation)
  SDRC developed GEOMOD, their geometric modeling product. Featuring NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines), this model generator was based on precision and accuracy.
Autodesk/AutoCAD 1982 By: John Walker   ohn Walker founded the company Autodesk, which released AutoCAD. AutoCAD was the first CAD software made for PCs instead of mainframe computers.
Radar CH
(later ArchiCAD)
1984 By: Gábor Bojár   This was the first BIM software available for personal computers.
(Now Vectorworks, Inc.)
1985 By: Richard Diehl/Diehl Graphsoft   MiniCAD was the best selling CAD software for Mac computers.
AutoCAD 3D 1985 By: Autodesk   Autodesk started offering 3D modeling systems.
(Now PTC Creo)
1988 By: PTC   This was the first mainstream CAD program that brought the ideas of Sketchpad (interactive, easy to use, fast) to life. Based on solid models, history-based features, and the use of constraints, it transformed the CAD industry. It was written in UNIX’s X-Windows, making it faster and more user-friendly.
CADENAS 1992 By: Juergen Heimbach   Founded originally as an engineering firm, CADENAS realized the potential of the engineering IT age and eventually founded eCATALOGsolutions.
Building Design Advisor 1993 By: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory   This BIM system could perform simulations to determine how buildings and components function and give feedback to design teams.
AutoCAD R13 1994 By: Autodesk   This version made AutoCAD 3D compatible.
(Standard for the Exchange of Product Data)
1994 By: ISO (the International Standards Organization)   STEP took over for IGES as the new format to use when transferring 3D models. The initial 1994 release of STEP made it an international standard for models, and it’s still the most used format today.
eCATALOGsolutions 1995 By: CADENAS   CADENAS entered the native 3D CAD model market with its eCATALOGsolutions digital product catalogs that featured multiple native CAD formats for the first time.
SolidWorks 1995 By: Dassault Systèmes   SolidWorks allowed more engineers than ever to take advantage of 3D CAD technology.
Solid Edge 1995 By: Intergraph   Made as a PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) software, Solid Edge was a response to the success of SolidWorks. It functioned on Windows and provided solid modeling, assembly modeling, and 2D orthographic views.
CATIA Conferencing Groupware 1996 By: Dassault Systèmes   This was CATIA’s first internet-ready system, and it allowed teams to review and annotate CATIA models simultaneously. It was quickly followed by Unigraphic’s iMAN web author and CoCreate’s Openspace Web.
Inventor 1999 By: Autodesk   Inventor was more intuitive and simpler to use, and it allowed designers to create complex assemblies in record time. It is still in use today.
Revit 2000 By: Revit Technology Corporation   By finding conflicts between BIM objects in models and making necessary adjustments, Revit transformed BIM. Revit is one of the most popular BIM systems used today.
SketchUp 2000 By: @Last Software   SketchUp was released as an easy-to-use, 3D modeling tool for several different fields, and it’s still widely used today.
AutoCAD 360
(Now AutoCAD mobile)
2010 By: Autodesk   Autodesk released a mobile version of their system, allowing designers to work outside of the office.
(Autodesk 360)
2012 By: Autodesk   This system moved CAD to the cloud and allowed teams to work on the same design simultaneously. Others followed.
3D CAD Models App 2013 By: CADENAS   CADENAS released the first 3D CAD models app for manufacturers. The app allows industrial marketers to display their products anywhere and at any time.
Onshape 2015 By: John Hirschtick and John McEleney   Onshape is a completely cloud-based CAD system that lets teams collaborate on one design simultaneously.
Mindesk 2015 By: Gabriele Sorrento   Mindesk lets users view projects through virtual reality.
Microsoft HoloLens 2016 By: Microsoft   HoloLens offers full-scale, holographic models.
3DfindIT.com 2019 By: CADENAS PARTsolutions   3DfindIT.com is a visual search engine that crawls billions of 3D CAD and BIM models in hundreds of manufacturer catalogs available worldwide.
CAD-to-AR for Inventor app 2019 By: Autodesk   CAD-to-AR allows users to view Inventor models in augmented reality.

Original History of CAD infographic from 2017:

The History of CAD

Original Infographic : Alexis Barnhorn / Research: Laura Caudill / Update: Kelly Obbie


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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.